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How to Master Intentional Productivity: Preparing for Focus and Flow

This lesson is a part of an audio course How to Master Intentional Productivity by Michelle Bondesio

Developing intentional productivity practices help us to thrive and endure over the long-term.

They are part of building strong foundations that support not just our productivity, process, and performance, but also our health and wellbeing.

In this lesson, we'll look at ways we can retrain our brains to support intentional, focused productivity.

We'll also cover rituals and exercises that can help us to prepare for digital work.

Up first, rewiring our brain for focus.

To keep your brain in top form, it needs regular exercise as much as your body does.

Too much time on our digital tools, including our phones, can decimate our concentration, but there are a few ways that we can rebuild our focus muscles.

First… Go for a walk.

Research has found that the act of walking actually helps our brain to think about things in a different way than when we're sitting at a desk.

If problem-solving and critical thinking is part of the work that you do, then make walking time part of your preparation and work process.

Second… Read more books.

Studies have found that the act of reading longer pieces of written work (both fiction and non-fiction) prepares our mind for holding lots of information all at the same time.

This skill is important for being able to problem solve when you need to consider many variables or complex ideas simultaneously.

Third… Do boring things.

Including small, mundane tasks in your workday, helps your brain to get used to doing things that can be boring or tedious.

If you're working at home, this could be taking five minutes to vacuum the living room or fold clean laundry. If you're at work, it could be tidying up the stationery cupboard or doing some filing and archiving.

Training our brain to become accustomed to doing things that are tedious, means we're less likely to rebel against the discomfort of doing long stretches of focused work.

If your brain isn't itching for distraction, you are less likely to feel the need to reach for your phone.

Next, we'll look at preparing for digital work.

The first step in preparing for digital work starts long before you get to your desk. It involves self-care and getting physical.

By that, I mean things like regular movement and exercise, healthy nutrition, good sleep, and conscious breathing practices.

Building these foundations enables you to bring your stronger, better self to work in the first place.

Next, do you have rituals for starting and ending your day?

Being conscious of your rituals and how they prepare your mind for work and rest, is part of developing your intentional productivity practice.

What simple routines can you implement to prepare your mind for work when you sit down at your desk?

At the start of your workday, what small triggers can you use to activate work mode, before you open your email and dive into the demands of the day?

This could be as simple as taking three long, slow, deep, conscious breaths in and out, while your computer boots up in the morning. Or the ritual could be savoring a coffee while you open your planner and review your day ahead.

And in the same vein, what can you do to help decompress and shift your headspace out of work mode, when it's time to call it a day?

At the end of your workday, it could be clearing your desk of clutter and ticking off your to-dos. Shutting down your windows and programs and closing your laptop screen signifies to your brain that work is done.

And your commute or going for a walk can help you transition from work mode back to home mode.

Set limits on communication time and set specific times in the day when you do communication-related work (such as emails, calls, or slack chats).

Closing your email when you're not sending an email sounds obvious, but we often forget to do it.

Can you set boundaries on taking calls or answering emails outside of work hours?

Which communication styles are more respectful of your space and focus?

And if you are part of a team, can you get everyone on board with implementing more asynchronous working styles across the company.

In a previous lesson, I spoke about the importance of your calendar.

Time block planning is an effective way to manage what you focus on in a day. It visually prepares your brain for the work you need to do.

So, can you block time in your days for the different types of work that you do, based on your energy levels and responsibilities?

For example, based on your natural cycles of productivity, you can allocate 90-minute to 3-hour slots on your calendar for deep work tasks. And you can batch small, busy work tasks together into longer, single slots.

I find color coding my different types of tasks in my digital calendar is also a helpful visual aid for my brain.

Set yourself up to win on the focus front, by addressing your notifications.

There are many apps that you can install on your desktop, phone, and browser to help limit and block distractions.

To master intentional productivity, it's essential that you deal with anything that can disrupt your concentration.

Next, we'll look at practical exercises to calm your mind and balance the two sides of your nervous system.

Mini movements during work time help to re-energize your body and mitigate the strain of digital working.

These can be small physical movements you can do at your desk.

For example, keep your wrists and finger limber by rotating your wrists.

You can clench your fists and then release your fingers in a star shape.

You can also rotate your shoulders to compensate for the hunching that is common when working with digital tools.

If you're feeling lethargic or tired, rubbing your hands together vigorously, or shaking out your hands brings energy and heat into your body, which can make you feel more awake.

Do these mini movements for a minute or two at a time and incorporate them a few times a day.

New habits take hold more easily when we attach them to things we already do.

So think about how you can implement small movements and breathing practices into your existing daily work routines?

I mentioned conscious breathing earlier in this lesson.

It's a form of meditative breathing where you control the depth and speed of your breath for a set period.

Conscious breathing is a quick and simple way to change your state. It can energize you and reduce any anxiety or stress you may be feeling. It is also a mindfulness technique as it helps to bring you into the present moment.

Conscious breathing calms and clears our mind and focuses our attention and it has a whole host of physiological health benefits.

The easiest way to practice conscious breathing is with a technique called box breathing, which involves four steps: an in-breath, a pause, an out-breath, and another pause.

You can vary the length of the breaths and pauses, depending on your personal lung capacity, but a common way to do this is to inhale for a count of 4, hold for 2, exhale for 6 and hold for 2, before repeating.

So, see if you can introduce this practice into your day. It could be a minute at the start of your workday, just after lunch, or whenever you're feeling stressed and anxious at work.

To understand how these types of exercises can truly support your productivity and wellbeing, you need to physically experience them first hand through practice. That means incorporating them into your daily intentional productivity practice.

In the final lesson, we'll do a recap of what's been covered in this course to remind you of how all of the puzzle pieces fit together to support your productivity.

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Written by

Michelle Bondesio